05.15.19 Tampa Bay Bureau Chief’s Desk

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
Comments: 1

I despised many things as a child. Some were warranted—like corn, which remains my arch nemesis—but others not as much, like doing nothing on a Saturday. Of the many things that cultivated my childhood angst, however, one in particular stands out: Easter.

I didn’t hate the holiday. There wasn’t much to hate in my family because we rarely did anything for it; gatherings were reserved for “major holidays” like Thanksgiving or Christmas. I wasn’t even aware families congregated for Easter until I was in college, and I was still surprised this year when Publix was closed for the day.

What I hated was hunting for eggs, so much so that I remember my first Easter egg hunt at around seven years old. Since our family did so little for the day, my mother insisted I attend a hunt hosted in our apartment complex, several buildings away from ours at the playground surrounded by more trees and taller weeds.

In case there are those who aren’t familiar, an Easter egg hunt is supposedly a game. They typically involve adults hiding eggs from children, either hard-boiled or plastic, usually for some type of reward inside of or in exchange for the eggs they’re able to find.

While most children love them, I spent my first Easter egg hunt inside of a tube slide. By choice.

I remember it well, from the muted sounds of my peers diving and dodging one another to collect their prizes to the warmth of a cylinder hiding me from their view. I also remember hoping that my mother didn’t notice I wasn’t outside “having fun” as I clutched my empty basket in solitude.

While the majority of participants were consumed with conquest, lost in the day’s egg-citement, I was consumed with what would have happened if I’d joined them and hadn’t found a single egg. Would it have disappointed the adults? Would they have felt sorry for me? Would the other children make fun of me?

If it sounds like I was a pretty weird kid, in a lot of ways I was. But while I can laugh at quite a bit about that day at 34, I now realize it was one of the earliest signs of the social anxiety that I still struggle with today.

It’s something that followed me through my youth in a number of ways, from pretending I’d never seen gifts I already owned as I received them again to missing extra days of school after I was sick. There were fewer questions if you went back to class on a Monday instead of mid-week.

I was able to manage my anxiety until my mid-20s, when I started having panic attacks. Clinically, they’re described as episodes of intense fear that trigger physical reactions without real danger. Personally, they’re hell.

With the help of loved ones and because I was in a position to seek medical care, a doctor introduced me to anxiety medication. The attacks subsided and life became more manageable for years, so much so that I weaned myself from medication entirely until my attacks recently returned.

This may be shocking, but because I’d worked hard to stop taking it, I had anxiety about returning to anxiety medication. But thanks to the support of my husband, friends, doctor and dogs, things are returning to my version of normal.

I share this not for sympathy or attention, which my anxiety dictates that I mention, but because May is Mental Health Month. Studies have shown that the LGBTQ community faces a number of health disparities linked to stigma, discrimination and denial of our civil rights, and our mental health is important.

Whoever you are, you’re not alone and you matter. Help is out there and you can find it—otherwise I’d still be stuck in a slide.

On a much more lighthearted note, our in-depth coverage this issue focuses on Central Florida’s inaugural RED Shirt Pride Day. We detail the best that the KindRED Pride Foundation has to offer for the first weekend of Pride season.

In Tampa Bay news, we check into the Gulfport Public Library as it receives the nation’s highest honor given to libraries and museums. In Central Florida, we go to prom with the Zebra Coalition.

In arts and entertainment, we turn to literature with artist Nick Smith and author Rob Sanders. Smith turns literary classics into works of art and Sanders revolutionizes picture books with “Stonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution.”

Watermark strives to bring you a variety of stories, your stories. I hope you enjoy this latest issue.

Share this story: